The worst thing about my North Korean adventure? Dropping my phone in a river, and losing all my photos on my last night in the country. All of the pictures here are from other people in my tour group who have graciously shared them.
Are You Allowed to Take Photos?
Yup! So long as you follow these three simple rules:
- No photos of anything military related. This includes soldiers, checkpoints, and construction sites.
- Any photos of statues need to include the entire statue in the full frame. No cropping out any part of the figure.
- If you see a sign that says “no photos” or your local guide tells you “cameras down”.
Otherwise you have full reign as to what you can shoot, so long as its tasteful. No goofing around statues, paintings, murals, etc… It comes down to respecting the culture and people.
Take a look at some of the amazing photos Alejandro took.
Did you feel safe?
North Korea is probably the safest country you’ll ever be in. There is no crime and you are watched like a hawk the entire time you are there.
We had access to western media in our hotel rooms. Chinese, French, and German news stations. Our western guide had full internet access on his phone. So yeah, I knew about all the postering the USA was doing with the latest military tests happening in North Korea.
It was business as usual the entire time I was there.
Are You Able to Talk to Locals?
Yes, absolutely… assuming they spoke English (or you spoke Korean). We had many opportunities to do so. At Bars/Restaurants, on the street, during tours, in the hotel, etc..
For the most part though they were just as curious about you as you are about them. People are humans, and North Koreans are no different. They have the same needs and wants as anyone else.
A simple “hi” or 안녕하세요 (annyeong-haseyo) is a good enough ice breaker to get the conversation flowing. See a group of business men sitting at a table? Bring over a bottle of soju and introduce yourself!
I usually ask them how their day is going, are they excited for the upcoming celebrations, are they looking forward to the warmer weather, etc…
In response I usually get the same old questions: “Where are you from?”, “Is this your first time in the DPRK?”, “What do you think of my country?”.
What Do North Koreans Do For Fun?
The same things you and I do! Go to the movies, take a stroll in a park, go to the pool for a swim, head to an amusement park for a ride on the bumper cars. You name it, it exists in this country.
Run Marathons! The main reason why I wanted to visit North Korea was to run the Pyongyang International Marathon. This race is unique in that it starts and ends inside the Kim Il Sung Stadium. Having thousands of people cheer you on as you finish your last 400m around the track inside the stadium is pretty awesome.
I even caught my korean tour guide playing a card game on her cell phone!
They have cell phones, really?!
North Koreans produce two models of phones. A simple flip phone and an android smart phone. Over three million people have phones in the country. They don’t have wifi or bluetooth functionality and cannot dial international numbers. They do have access to the country wide intranet, which my Korean guide used a lot to look things up.
Phones? Do They Have Dating Apps like Tinder?
Hah! No. Dating in North Korea is different and less liberal than the west. Contraception is hard to come by. Access to condoms is available to locals on a black market, but most are the wrong size or don’t know how to use them due to the lack of sexual education. Sex for the first time usually happens after getting married.
Showing affection in public is not allowed and the line is drawn at holding hands.
After getting married you can apply to the government for a new place to live, since all housing is free. You have the option to live with your spouse or continue to live with your parents.
Most educated people in the city have one or two children.
I Want To Know More!
I’ve taken the top questions people have asked me about the country and put them here, in Part One. Part Two will focus more on my personal thoughts and experiences about my trip to this amazing country.
In the mean time, take a look at Departures on Netflix. Season three, episode 13 has a great episode on the DPRK.